Canadians need to ditch their SUVs to help climate climate change

David Suzuki is a world-renowned scientist, broadcaster, activist, co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation and author of more than 30 books on ecology (written with files from senior editor Ian Hanington).

You’ve probably seen the ads: people in sport utility vehicles and trucks escaping the noise and chaos of the city to explore pristine wilderness. These vehicles buy freedom and get you closer to nature!

The ads are everywhere — because they work. A U.K. study found advertising significantly increased demand for the polluting vehicles while drowning out messaging encouraging people to choose “greener” options such as cycling and public transit. 

A 2021 Équiterre study found that the automobile industry is Canada’s top advertiser, accounting for 21 per cent of total digital advertising investment in 2018 — much of it for “light-duty” trucks, including SUVs, crossover utility vehicles, pickup trucks and minivans. David Suzuki Foundation research found that in 2020 and 2021, 80 per cent of new vehicle sales in Canada were light-duty trucks, compared to 54 per cent in 2010.

“From 1990 to 2018 in Canada, the number of cars on the road went up by 10 per cent, while the number of light-duty trucks went up by a factor of three (from 3.4 million to 13 million),” the Foundation found.

SUVs consume 20 per cent more oil than an average medium-size car, the IEA reports, and “combustion-related CO2 emissions of SUVs increased by nearly 70 million tonnes in 2022. Altogether, the 330 million SUVs on the road today emit nearly 1 billion tonnes of CO2.”

Gas-fuelled SUVs also pollute air, water and soil with their emissions and “tire wear particles,” affecting humans, fish and other organisms. David Suzuki Foundation’s research found SUV drivers often prioritized their own safety regarding accidents and weather conditions but showed little concern for known impacts on pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and passengers in other vehicles. SUVs and trucks also harm increasing numbers of wildlife. Vehicles kill more than 350 million vertebrates a year in the United States alone.

The answer is to leave behind the strange notion that every person should have tonnes of metal and materials to move them around. We need better options, including improved public and active transportation.

Changing the way we get around is one of the best ways to combat pollution and climate change. Advertising for trucks and SUVs is a roadblock to progress.